We recently wrote: the government and so-called environmental campaigners are also guilty of gross deception when they insist of talking of "low-carbon industry" or "carbon neutral" or other expressions including the word "carbon". Carbon is not the same thing as carbon dioxide, which is a gas. Carbon is what we're all made of. They might as well talk about "low-human industry" or "meat neutral".
We suppose in the interests of complete scientific authenticity we ought to qualify that statement. Carbon is the substance we're all made of apart from water. A person who weighs 70 kg would contain 43 kg of oxygen, 16 kg carbon, 7 kg hydrogen, 1.8 kg nitrogen, 1 kg calcium, and less than a kilogram of 54 other elements (most of them poisonous) including silver, gold, uranium, mercury and arsenic.
Having got that piece of gratuitous pedantry out of the way, we'd like to draw your attention to Ed Miliband, the UK climate change secretary, who last week unveiled the government’s plans for cutting carbon emissions in the UK. Initial press reaction seemed to be quite positive, surprisingly, but it wasn't long before some of the more astute observers had spotted the deliberate mistakes. Here's Brendan O'Neill writing on Spiked ...
Given its isolation, unpopularity and dysfunctional relationship with ‘the vision thing’, it seems highly unlikely that Gordon Brown’s government is capable of starting a revolution. Yet that, apparently, is what it did yesterday.
Ed Miliband, the UK climate change secretary, unveiled the government’s plans for cutting carbon emissions in the UK by 34 per cent by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050. In the fields of manufacturing, energy production, transport and housing, revealed Miliband in 650 pages of shiny manifestos and strategy documents, carbon-use will be slashed. Commentators were overjoyed, describing it as ‘nothing less than a green industrial revolution’, which might rank as ‘one of the most important moments in British economic history’.
Steady on. There is nothing remotely revolutionary about Miliband’s plans. And the only sense in which they are historic is that they represent – albeit in a coded, PC fashion – Britain’s disavowal of its own industrial history and its final embrace of the slow life, low ambitions and the realities of economic failure. Miliband’s vision, or rather anti-vision, reveals what the politics of low carbon is really all about: accommodating to the economic downturn and to the dearth of big plans for the future.
Where growing and aspirational nations like China and India produce carbon – which is simply the byproduct of large-scale energy production and manufacturing – sluggish and increasingly insignificant nations like Britain produce less carbon, or no carbon, or now, in the words of Miliband, ‘low carbon’: codeword for a nation that isn’t doing very much at all. Miliband’s plans expose how the green ethos can be used to add a gloss of respectability to already-existing economic and visionary failure.
In many ways, the documents published by Miliband yesterday represented a bizarre celebration of Britain’s slowdown, particularly in manufacturing, over the past 15 to 20 years. In the kind of green lingo that excites officials and commentators, Miliband effectively boasted about the fact that Britain is producing and building fewer tangible things today than it was in 1990. He outlined how New Labour has committed Britain to cutting carbon emissions by 34 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020, and then said we are already more than half way to achieving that goal. ‘We’ve already achieved around a 21 per cent cut since 1990’, his factsheet said, ‘[which is the] equivalent of cutting emissions entirely from four cities the size of London’.
But it is deeply disingenuous to present a 21 per cent fall in carbon emissions since 1990, the equivalent of getting rid of four Londons, as a product of some conscious, profound desire to rein in carbon-use and make the nation cleaner. Such a reduction in emissions was not brought about by the erection of a few windfarms off the south coast of England or the introduction of bin-monitoring recycling policies in the cities; more fundamentally, it reflects the contraction of manufacturing in Britain and the creeping replacement of a one-time productive economy with a services-based economy, aspects of which are not productive at all (especially the financial services sector).
Over the same period now presented by Miliband as the Glorious Era of Low Carbon, the British economy underwent huge changes. In 1986, manufacturing made up around 21 per cent of British economic activity; today it accounts for only 13 per cent. At the same time, the service side of the economy grew enormously: in 1975 services accounted for 55 per cent of British GDP; today they account for 75 per cent.
The post-1990 fall in carbon emissions, the effective winding down of four cities, was brought about by the closure of the remaining coalpits, the shutting up of factories, the export of car manufacturing overseas (most notoriously, with the sale of MG Rover Group for a song to Nanjing Automobile Group in 2005), and so on. All that the 21 per cent reduction in CO2 really tells us, in any meaningful sense, is that Britain is producing less real stuff today; it has fewer and fewer workers whose job is to create real, tangible things and who in the process emit the byproduct of carbon. A services-based economy tends to be ‘cleaner’ than a manufacturing-based economy. Miliband is cynically presenting manufacturing downturn, and all the job losses and city and community deprivation that go along with it, as a brilliant central-government strategy to ‘clean up Britain’.
When it comes to planning for the future, Miliband’s documents show how ‘building a low-carbon Britain’ is justification for ditching big plans. Between now and 2020, when 34 per cent of CO2 emissions will have been cut, Miliband envisages that a whopping 50 per cent of that cut will be in the ‘power and heavy industry’ sector, compared with 20 per cent in transport, 15 per cent in homes, 10 per cent in workplaces, and five per cent in agriculture. It is striking, and also rather predictable, that the climate change secretary of a nation that was once the ‘workshop of the world’ but which now carries out less and less manufacturing should envision the biggest fall in CO2 emissions taking place in heavy industry. What he really means is that fewer things will be done in that area in the next 10, 20 or 30 years; but, rather than seeing that as a potential problem he celebrates it as part of the process of creating a new kind of world-beating low-carbon nation.
There is a glaring contradiction in some of Miliband’s plans. He opportunistically celebrates the lower carbon levels that have fundamentally resulted from the sclerosis of properly productive activity, yet doesn’t realise that such sclerosis is likely to impact even on his low-carbon plans. For example, in order to cut CO2 emissions in the energy sector, Miliband proposes building vastly more windfarms and new nuclear power stations (he can keep his windfarms, but more nuclear is a very good idea). However, earlier this year Vestas, the wind turbine manufacturer, closed its major factory on the Isle of Wight, with the loss of 600 jobs, and cited lack of investment and too much red tape in planning procedures as the main problem. In response to Miliband’s nuclear proposals, energy companies have complained that, actually, Britain is not conducive to big building projects right now, because everything gets tied up in endless judicial reviews and public consultations.
In short, Britain’s general lack of manufacturing-based productivity has made the country ‘cleaner’, yes, but it has also made it far harder to get anything done. A lack of investment in manufacturing and big build projects has lowered carbon, but it has also lowered the chances of making things happen speedily and effectively. The irony is too much: Britain is low carbon because it produces less stuff, and it is that very lack of productivity that might hamper some of Miliband’s plans to make Britain even more low carbon, for example by building new nuclear power stations.
In transport and house-building, too, the low-carbon approach has clearly become a way of presenting the death of vision as something wonderful. Yesterday the minister for transport, Lord Adonis, spelt out his vision for a low-carbon transport system: his plan is not to overhaul roads, build more motorways or lay down vastly more railtracks, but rather to play around with the vehicles that travel on the already-existing creaking infrastructure. So he will introduce tougher regulation of cars that emit a lot of CO2, perhaps taxing their drivers more than others, and will spend £250million on customer incentives designed to promote electric cars. He also wants to create ‘sustainable travel cities’: places where people travel by foot or by bike. Here, Britain’s lack of transport vision, its abandonment of road-building and infrastructure investment over the past 10 to 15 years, is re-presented as part of the big, conscious plan for a low-carbon future.
In housing, where 10 per cent of the planned CO2 cuts will happen between now and 2020, there is not nearly enough talk of building the millions of new homes that Britain needs. Instead there is a headline focus on monitoring how we all live in the homes we have right now. One plan is to put ‘smart electricity meters’ in 26million homes, so that we can measure how much energy we’re using: those who use small amounts will be rewarded with financial incentives. This is probably what Lord Mandelson meant yesterday, when he said the big low-carbon project would ‘reshape our lives’.
The Miliband plan reveals something profound about the politics of environmentalism: it justifies, even celebrates, underdevelopment and lack of investment in infrastructure, but in the dishonest language of ‘low carbon’ and ‘cleaner futures’. This is the opposite of revolutionary. Indeed, the government’s adoption of a new language that effectively heralds Britain’s position as a slow, meek and visionless nation is, in many ways, the final nail in the coffin of the industrial revolution that gave birth to modern Britain.
Writing in The Sunday Times last week Dominic Lawson was equally sceptical ...
You may recall the Beyond the Fringe sketch in which Squadron Leader Peter Cook tells Jonathan Miller, the doleful pilot, that he must set out on a doomed mission because “we need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war”.
I was irresistibly reminded of this by Ed Miliband, the energy secretary, in his launch of plans to cut carbon emissions by switching to “renewables” for more than 30% of our energy use. This, he claimed, would “rise to the moral challenge of climate change”.
Miliband is of the generation of politicians struggling to find a great moral cause. Earlier in the Labour administration Tony Blair thought he had found it with wars of choice far from home, but that has, to put it mildly, lost its lustre. Now it is the “war against climate change”, given additional moral potency by the notion that the greatest concentration of sufferers from global rising temperatures would be among the world’s poorest.
Miliband’s citing of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in support of his policy of subsidising the construction of many thousands of otherwise uneconomic wind turbines might appear grotesque, even comical; but not if you genuinely believe that Britain’s switching from coal to wind power for its electricity generation will save the lives of countless Africans.
I have no idea whether Miliband truly believes that it will - but if he does, he is deluded. The UK is responsible for less than 2% of global carbon emissions - a figure set to fall sharply, regardless of what we do, as a result of the startlingly rapid industrial-isation of countries such as China and India: each year the increase in Chinese CO2 emissions alone is greater than those produced by the entire British economy. On the fashionable assumption that climate change is entirely driven by CO2 emissions, the effect on global temperatures of Britain closing every fossil fuel power station would be much smaller than the statistical margin of error: in effect, zero.
The scientists at the energy and climate change department know this, but their political masters see things differently. Gordon Brown claims: “Britain is leading the world in the battle against climate change.” Such remarks are regarded as absurd in the chancelleries of Europe: if you do take as a measure of such commitment the proportion of domestic energy already supplied by renewables, the UK occupies 25th place in the European Union league table, above only Malta and Luxembourg.
Nevertheless, there is one great merit in being a follower rather than a leader in renewable energy: we can see how other European countries have fared in the experiment. Germany has long been subsidising wind power to the extent of almost €5 billion a year. Yet recent German Green party internal e-mails leaked to Der Spiegel magazine show this has not led to a reduction of a single gram of CO2 emitted on the continent of Europe. The much-vaunted emissions trading system is one reason: Germany’s unused certificates were snapped up at negligible cost by coal producers in countries such as Poland and Slovakia, which were thus able to increase their output of greenhouse gases.
There is a second reason, which would remain even if the European emissions trading system were to be scrapped. Because the wind blows intermittently, and may be at its calmest at times of freezing weather, Germany has not been able to close a single one of its conventional power stations, despite its vast investment in wind power.
Indeed, Paul Golby, who runs the British operations of E.ON, Europe’s biggest wind-power producer, has told the government that a 90% fossil fuel or nuclear back-up will be needed for any of the National Grid’s future wind-power capacity. As Martin Fuchs, his German boss, pointed out: “The wind, sadly, does not blow where large quantities of power are required . . . on September 12 last year wind power contributed 38% of our grid power requirements at all times, but on September 30 the figure went down to 0.2%.”
The powerful wind-turbine lobby in Germany constantly harps on about the number of jobs “created” by its subsidised investment, quite ignoring the number of jobs destroyed by high-cost energy, or indeed the greater number of jobs that could be created if the same amounts were invested in more profitable activities. This is why the Bremen Energy Institute argues that “wind energy macro-economically has a negative employment impact”.
Given the run-down state of our conventional generating capacity, it is easy to see that the government’s suspiciously round number of a “£100 billion” expenditure on installing 7,000 offshore steel structures, each the height of Blackpool Tower, at a projected rate of more than two every working day over the next decade, does not begin to cover the real cost. This is why the overall price of wind energy is a multiple of that incurred by nuclear power, which is equally carbon-free but does not appeal to the moral vanity of politicians.
Admittedly, the Labour government has made a belated commitment to replacing our ageing nuclear reactors – far too late to fill the yawning energy gap that Britain faces in the coming decade. As Professor Ian Fells points out in the new Civitas pamphlet Nations Choose Prosperity: “The energy agenda is focused on carbon emissions rather than security of supply and potential costs. What is rarely considered is the consequential costs when power cuts are inflicted.” These costs are not just measured in the collapse of business, but also in human lives, especially of the elderly and infirm.
Miliband claimed last week that the result of his proposals would be an increase in costs to energy users of about 17%. However, the business and enterprise department admitted last year that Britain’s existing “climate policies” - even before Miliband’s latest Big New Idea - would add an extra 55% to energy bills. It’s obvious where this will lead: to the exit from Britain (and, indeed, Europe) of much of what remains of energy-intensive manufacturing industry - the euphemistic jargon term is “carbon leakage”.
Jeremy Nicholson, the director of the Energy Intensive Users Group, which represents such industries as steel and aluminium, is exasperated beyond measure: “A future administration will have to say in public what ministers and their officials already admit in private, that the renewables target is neither practical nor affordable. Outsourcing our emissions is not a solution to a global problem. Politicians need to understand that unilateral action will come at a terrible cost in terms of UK manufacturing jobs, investment and export revenue, for no discernible environmental gain - is that really what they want?”
On the day Nicholson said this to me, last Thursday, Anglesey Aluminium, the biggest consumer of electricity in Wales, announced that it would cease production, precisely because it could see no prospect of signing up to a long-term supply of electricity at a rate at which it could make a profit. And on the day of Miliband’s announcement, a group of Labour MPs presented a “Save Our Steel” petition, saying: “We need to make sure we act before the light goes out.”
It may well be that the English steel mills will become unable to compete globally, even at current domestic energy prices; but deliberately to make them uncompetitive is industrial vandalism - and even madness when the consequence of Miliband’s Martin Luther King moment may be the lights going out not just for producers but for all of us in our homes. This is worse than a futile gesture: it is immoral.
The GOS says: I've just been looking again at that list of chemical constituents of the human body. I can find tungsten, beryllium, samarium, thorium, vanadium, tantalum, scandium, indium, thalium, yttrium, telurium and tedium, but where the hell is the kryptonite?
P.S. I was lying about the tedium.
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